The Eternal City

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Suore Oblate dell'Assunzione

Flag of Italy  , Lazio,
Sunday, June 26, 2011

After two long flights and 4 hours passing time at Dubai airport I finally arrived at Fiumicino Airport in Rome on Sunday afternoon, ready to start my travels.

Twelve UWA students spent the first week of our travels in Rome, staying at a convent near the Vatican. Was a great location, not too hard to get places on foot and also really close to a Metro station, and the suore (nuns) had organised for us to have the typical Italian breakfast cappuccino e cornetto for breakfast at the cafe next door every morning! The nuns knew very little English, so it was a good chance to get some Italian practice in, using vocab that you don't come across everyday, but we managed just fine!

Marinella, the coordinator of the trip back at UWA, had organised for us to meet with an ex-UWA teacher Teresa Canestrari every evening, and she gave us tasks to do the next day, with questions to find out the answers to throughout the city. Each evening we gathered around the table in the convent's courtyard to discuss what had happened during the day.

True to form, my first gelato for the trip was on the first night, after dinner we walked around the corner to the Gelateria Old Bridge, where you got an enormous serve for E1.50. Needlesss to say we went back a few times during the week.

Amanda and I would have walked over 10ks today, starting not long after 9 and getting back about 6. We started at San Pietro and the Vaticano, I almost missed getting in as my dress didn't quite reach my knees, but some slight adjustments and another woman distracting the officials saved the day. The best thing about San Pietro is that no matter how many times I've been, I'll always be amazed by the inside and discover something quirky I hadn't noticed before. Teresa's itinerary then took us to the Isola Tiberina, a small island in the middle of the Tevere river, which has a hospital and church in the middle of it. This started the trend that has continued throughout the trip so far of churches being closed when we try to visit them, so we end up only getting to admire the facades. (It seems that because the churches need someone manning them whenever they're open, they are closed at least one day a week and for a few hours in the middle of the day.) One of the first crazy ideas I had during the week was to walk up to Gianicolo, one of the seven hills Rome was founded on, and which has a great panoramic view of the city. 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy (when Italy as we know it today was founded) so throughout the country there are exhibitions and displays in prominent locations with information about key events in Italy's history. One of these displays was at Gianicolo, where they had set out 80 busts of important Italians, as well as the constitution of Italy inlaid into a wall. I'm loving that these exhibitions give us a link between what we're seeing and Italy's history, other than just looking at a random monument and not knowing enough about its purpose or background.
After our evening meeting with Teresa, I caught the train part way to Acilia to meet Elio, and went and had dinner with the Rubinos (the family who I stayed with whilst on exchange in Rome in 2007, they live about 40min from the city centre). I was still pretty jetlagged, so wasn't that great company, but it was still good to see them again. The WA gift hamper that Mum and I had organised to give to them went down a treat, and they tore into the packet of Tim Tams at the first possible opportunity!

Another full day of sightseeing and walking. We visited Castel Sant'Angelo, a fort built by the Roman emperor Adrian, which had an art exhibition inside it with information on art and artefacts that has been found by the Italian police forces over the years. We walked from there via Campo de' Fiori, Palazzo Farnese (contains the French embassy) and Teatro Marcello to Campidoglio (another of the 7 hills of Rome). The piazza was designed my Michelangelo, who else?, and is where the Mayor of Rome's offices are located. Squashed between the buildings at Campidoglio and the Vittoriano (aka Altare della Patria, massive marble monument dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II the first King of united Italy) is the gorgeous Basilica dell'Aracoeli. This church is at the top of a huge brick staircase up the hill, and looks pretty plain on the outside, but on the inside it is really ornate, with loads of chandeliers amongst all the other artwork and decoration. We took the shortcut behind Aracoeli into the heart of the Vittoriano, which is made entirely of marble, inside and out. This monument contains the tomb of the unknown soldier, put there I think after WWII, and in recognition of this there are always two soldiers standing to attention on either side of a wreath out the front.
After lunch we walked down to the Colosseo, where we wandered around for a few hours before heading home. The highlight of the visit to the Colosseo was the exhibition about the emperor Nero, which gave a much better sense of life and purpose to the ruins we were looking at. Six of us went to a restaurant down the road from the convent for dinner and then walked to the Gelateria dei Gracchi, which I almost thought I'd forgotten where it was before we found it, definitely worth the walk!

The entry ticket for the Coloseo included an entry to the Roman Forum and Palatine, so Amanda and I headed there in the morning, with the intention of having a 'quick' look around before it got too hot, but as it turned out that was a bit much to ask, there's just too much to see! The Nero exhibition continued through here as well, giving us more information about the era in which he was the emperor. We then walked back to the Centro Storico where we spent the afternoon wandering around, visiting the sights on Teresa's list and looking through some of the shops on Via del Corso.
During the afternoon we visited:  - the Basilica di Sant Ignazio, which has links to the Jesuit church and Spain. It has a false dome painted on the roof, so if you stand on the right angle, it looks as though there is a dome in the ceiling instead of just a painting;
-  the Piazza di Pietra where you will find the huge stone building that used to house the stock exchange;
- La Fontana di Trevi, which possibly is the most crowded place in Rome;
-  the Pantheon and;
- Galleria Colonna a shopping centre opposite an old marble column, which as part of the history of ancient Rome in pictures carved in sequence around it.
The 29th of June is the festival of Saints Peter and Paul (the patron saints of Rome) so tonight there was a fireworks display from Castel Sant'Angelo in celebration. After dinner we wandered down to one of the adjacent bridges (along with most of the locals who lived in the area) to watch. We decided that fireworks are just not the same without the background music from Mix94.5, but it was very exciting nonetheless.

Teresa's task for the day was for us to visit Piazza Repubblica, which was in an area of town that I hadn't visited before, which made for a good change for me. In the roundabout that makes up most of the piazza there is a huge fountain, with sculptures of water Nymphs surrounding it. Next to the piazza are the Terme di Diocleziano, some ancient roman baths, part of which over the years was converted into a church. On the outside Santa Maria degli Angeli looks like the rest of the ruins, but on the inside it is just as impressively decorated as the rest of the churches in the city, and has one of the oldest meridionale inside it, as well as displays about Galileo and his link to the church.
Heading back into the centre of Rome, we visited Piazza del Popolo, which is at one end of via del Corso (where the Vittoriano is at the other) and climbed the stairs up to Pincio, yet another of Rome's 7 hills. The rest of the afternoon was spent looking at the shops on the other half of via del Corso, as well as along via dei Condotti which has all the top designer shops along it, and connects to the Piazza di Spagna.
I spent the evening out with the Rubinos and Bonafedes (the family of Elly, who lived with us for two months before I went on exchange). We went to this gorgeous restaurant in a renovated villa, which had a huge terrace full of tables and umbrellas so we could enjoy the balmy summer evening. For those of you big on your meat, you'll be glad to know that Aussie steak was on the menu :) The highlight of the restaurant for everyone (aside from the food) would have been the gardens outside, with deckchairs, lounges and rabbits.....the owners of the restaurant have introduced rabbits in the large garden just to run free and keep all the kids amused. Everyone was amazed to see a little girl brag about how she could pick one up, let it free and then chase it back up again.

Friday 1/7/11
Amanda and I started the morning with a walk to the Palazzo della Giudizia (I think it was a courthouse), a huge rectangular marble building that we'd spent the week marveling at from every high point in Rome. Not only was the outside entirely marble, but the internal courtyard had a few huge marble statues living there too. In a tent in the courtyard there was a display kind of like those at the royal show with information on the histories of different regions of Italy. We crossed the river and made our way to Piazza Navona, where you can find Bernini's fountain of the Four Rivers. There were also a couple of churches we wanted to visit today, but unfortunately they were all closed whenever we were in the area. We spent the afternoon walking around the Centro Storico, up and down little streets and alleyways as well as the main shopping areas.
After our last meeting with Teresa, where we all spoke about what our favourite things about Rome are, Amanda and I headed down to the Tevere (river) for dinner. We caught the train to Circo Massimo and walked past there (it's pretty much just a patch of dirt and grass in the shape of a racetrack) to la Bocca della Verita' which was unfortunately closed, but we got a look in from outside the courtyard. After dinner from one of the restaurants along the riverfront, we went to meet the Rubinos for grattachecchi, shaved ice with fruit syrup and fresh fruit pieces. I managed to completely misunderstand Elio's instructions on where to go, and so we ended up meeting them really late and at the wrong bridge, but we did still get to try what are apparently the best gratttachecchi in Roma. The "classico" flavour is to have cherry syrup and fresh pieces of coconut, which of course we did, I'll just say it beats Icey Ice at harbour town! After your casual evening walk through the ruins of Rome we said goodbye, I'll only see Bruna when I get back to Rome at the start of August because the rest of the family is going overseas.

Saturday 2/7/11
Amanda spent the day with relatives in Aprilia, inland of Rome, so after a sleep-in I headed to via del Corso with Mara, to hunt out some bargains. The massive summer sales started today, so there were people everywhere, and it got pretty tedious pretty quickly. In Italy they have the equivalent of our Boxing Day sales twice a year, so it's pretty crazy the day they start! I had a late lunch with the Bonafede family, was a chance to see Adriano since he hadn't been able to go to the dinner earlier in the week. Like any meal in Italy when there are guests, there was heaps of food, including a few different varieties of delicious cheeses. Elly and I went for a bit of a walk through a shopping precinct near her house that I hadn't visited before, and I still couldn't really find anything that was that exciting. I'm guessing that my splurging will have to wait until New York, where I can spend what money I have left on my way home! After farewelling Elly and her family (hopefully the next time I see them they'll be in Australia) I went back to the convent to get myself sorted for the evening. I went out for dinner in Ostia with Martina and some other friends from when I was at school in Rome. We went to this "Wild West Saloon" restaurant, where they attempted to serve up decent hamburgers and mexican food, but should really have stuck to Italian cuisine to be honest. It was quite a struggle trying to understand exactly what was happening in the various conversations around the table in a noisy restaurant, but hopefully I didn't spend the whole night with a blank stare on my face. Some of us then went and visited a pub that two of the boys in my class at Labriola have opened called La Taverna di Boe, it's a Simpsons themed pub in an alleyway of a shopping centre, complete with Duff cans behind the bar and posters of Moe and Barney etc on the walls.  I stayed the night with Martina's family, to save myself the three late night train rides that I would have needed to get back to the convent. Her parents are lovely, and even gave me a pen as a present "so that I can write to them whenever I like"!
Sunday: 3/7/11
I said yet another goodbye this morning, this time to Martina and her family, after a coffee and biscuits for breakfast, and caught the train(s) back to the convent to finish packing and check out. Amanda, Kate and I had arranged to catch the train together to Bergamo, leaving Rome at 2pm, so we spent the morning just wandering the streets in the surrounding suburbs and visited our new favourite pasticceria to get ourselves some lunch and snacks for the train. The train trip to Bergamo went really quickly, and we got to pass through some gorgeous Tuscan and then Lombardy countryside on the way. Although slower than flying, it was definitely a more interesing journey. We arrived at the train station in Bergamo at about 6pm after changing trains in Milan, and caught the bus up the hill to the apartment we've rented for the duration of the course. Mara and Katie (who Amanda and I are in the apartment with) had arrived in Bergamo during the day, and so were ready to meet us at the bus stop and show us the way home. Mariella, who owns the apartment, had left some pasta and sauce in a welcome basket, so we cooked that up for dinner to save trying to find a supermarket open on a Sunday.
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Peter Bowler on

Hi Alex,
I am extremely green with envy. Your trip so far is fantastic and I hope you are soaking up every experience, as time will go too quickly.
Thanks for keeping us posted as to your journey. We will have to find a way to get some of your travel log onto our website. The photos of the Dead Pope and the Dead Pope's ring were interesting, but isn't there a "Live one" you can capture on film? Just ask for an audience and tell them Peter Bowler said it was OK.
David and the team of Teach Learn Grow Inc. have had an amazing time with the students at Three Springs School doing the Tutoring. Sasha Quahe had an awesome time also.
Our next big event is with the Premier on August 5 at the Leaders Series Breaky. We will miss you not being there.
Keep us up to date on where next with Roving Reporter Alex Thornton.
Our warm wishes to you on this wet and cold Friday July 20th in Perth WA- you remember the place don't you.
Best wishes
Peter Bowler

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